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Aerostat to watch over northeast corridor

By Joe Gould 11:57 a.m. EST December 19, 2014


The North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) is launching a 250-foot tethered blimp, which carries a monitoring station, also known as the Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor System. The system can surveil and track objects, like cruise missiles, in an area as large as Texas, staying aloft for up to 30 days.

The system, built by Raytheon, trumps ground based radars that cannot look over the horizon and, the Army acknowledges, cannot detect all threats. It is meant to assist NORAD’s surveillance of the east coast, including Washington, D.C., Baltimore and New York City.

That over-the-horizon capability means earlier detection, Army officials say, which could all the difference against a cruise missile.

“If I can detect this thing much further out, it gives commanders [more] time to get air assets into place and to alert people on the ground of the threat,” said Maj. Gen. Glenn Bramhall, commander, 263rd Army Air and Missile Defense Command, during a press briefing, Dec. 17. “If I can give a command four more minutes or five more minutes, that’s a lot of time.”

The launch is part of a three-year JLENS evaluation is to see how well it can integrate into existing NORAD detection systems. It has already showed it is effective at detecting cruise missiles at earlier tests in Utah, Army officials say.

Ahead of a launch from Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland, Army officials stressed that the system carries no weapons or cameras and will not impinge on the privacy of Beltway residents.

“I can’t stress enough: there are no cameras or video equipment onboard the JLENS system. Its radars cannot detect people,” said Capt. Matt Villa, JLENS plans and coordination officer.


Radar testing for JLENS aerostat

Raytheon is doing final testing of radars aboard a JLENS aerostat that will help protect the National Capital Region against cruise missiles, drones and other aircraft.

By Richard Tomkins | Dec. 29, 2014 at 10:40 AM

Read more:


ABERDEEN PROVING GROUNDS, Md., Dec. 29 (UPI) — The first of two radar blimps to protect the nation’s capital from cruise missiles is being readied for operational transfer to a U.S. Army air defense unit.

The helium-filled aerostat system, called JLENS, is undergoing additional testing of its radar systems by its maker, Raytheon, following its recent raising in Maryland.

“JLENS is strategically emplaced to help defend Washington D.C. and a Texas-sized portion of the East Coast from cruise missiles, drones and hostile aircraft,” said Dave Gulla, vice president of Raytheon Integrated Defense Systems’ Global Integrated Sensors business. “JLENS can detect potential threats at extremely long ranges, giving North American Aerospace Defense Command more time to make decisions and more space to react appropriately.”

The tethered radar Aerostats, each the size of a football field, will float at a height of 10,000 feet for 30 days at a time.

Raytheon said the second blimp in the system will take to the air early next year and that both will then take part in a North American Aerospace Defense Command exercise.


Obama Calls Sony Hack ‘Cybervandalism’ Not Act of War


By Byron Tau

President Barack Obama said that the North Korean hacking of Sony Pictures’ computer systems was an act of “cybervandalism,” not an act of war, and confirmed that the U.S. was considering adding North Korea back to the list of state sponsors of terrorism.


In an interview that aired Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union,” Mr. Obama said that the United States was reviewing its options in response to the attack.

“I don’t think it was an act of war. I think it was an act of cybervandalism that was very costly, very expensive. We take it very seriously. We will respond proportionately,” the president told host Candy Crowley.

Mr. Obama also confirmed that the U.S. was reviewing North Korea’s State Sponsors of Terrorism designation. The State Department under President George W. Bush de-listed North Korea in 2008. The Wall Street Journal reported Friday that the U.S. was considering such a move.

“We’re going to review those through a process that’s already in place,” Mr. Obama told CNN. “I’ll wait to review what the findings are.”

Sony Pictures, an American subsidiary of Sony Corp., withdrew the film “The Interview” this week after a major intrusion into its computer systems along with threats of violence against theaters who show the film. Mr. Obama has called Sony’s decision to pull the movie “a mistake” and has since been weighing how best to respond to the cyber-attack that the Federal Bureau of Investigation had tied to North Korea, citing computer evidence.

“The Interview,” a James Franco and Seth Rogen comedy, depicts a fictional assassination plot against North Korean leader Kim Jong-un by two American journalists.

Mr. Obama said that incidents of hacking from either foreign governments or criminal organizations were a manageable problem that should not disrupt commerce or cause a panic.

“We’re going to be in an environment in this new world where so much is digitalized that both state and non-state actors are going to have the capacity to disrupt our lives in all sorts of ways,” he said, adding: “When other countries are sponsoring it, we take it very seriously. But, you know, I think this is something that we can manage.”

Sen. John McCain (R. Ariz.), in comments on CNN, criticized Mr. Obama for calling it “cyber-vandalism”, saying the attack amounted to “a new form of warfare.” He said: “I think the president does not understand that this is a manifestation of new form of warfare, when you destroy economies, when you are able to impose censorship. We need to react vociferously.”



Air Force seeks electronic warfare roadmap

Michael Peck, Contributing Writer 5:25 p.m. EST December 24, 2014


The Air Force is searching for a roadmap for new electronic warfare receivers.

A request for information released by the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) asks for “information needed to develop a near to mid-term (present-2025) technology roadmap including required investment funding to advance the state of practice of EW receiver technology and architecture to address modern and future radar agile threat waveforms.”

The Air Force has become concerned about the ability of its current EW receivers to keep up with advancements in radar waveform agility and the “complex electromagnetic operating environment that are part of the modern battlefield,” according to the RFI. New threats include the Active Electronically Scanning Array, variable pulse widths, and the radio confusion that comes from operating in multi-signal or dense radio-frequency environments.

AFRL wants EW receivers capable of sorting and identifying “increasingly ambiguous waveforms,” faster system architectures and more sensitive receivers. Responses to the RFI are due by Jan. 23.


The Military Wants Smarter Insect Spy Drones

Patrick Tucker December 23, 2014


The Defense Advanced Projects Research Agency put out a broad agency announcement this week seeking software solutions to help small drones fly better in tight enclosed environments. The Fast Lightweight Autonomy program, the agency said, “focuses on creating a new class of algorithms to enable small, unmanned aerial vehicles to quickly navigate a labyrinth of rooms, stairways and corridors or other obstacle-filled environments without a remote pilot.”

The solicitation doesn’t focus on new drone designs so much as helping very small drones — able to fit through an open window and fly at 45 miles per hour — navigate tight and chaotic indoor spaces without having to communicate with operators, get GPS directions, or receive data from external sensors. All the thinking, steering and landing would be in the drone.

“Goshawks, for example, can fly very fast through a dense forest without smacking into a tree. Many insects, too, can dart and hover with incredible speed and precision. The goal of the FLA program is to explore non-traditional perception and autonomy methods that would give small UAVs the capacity to perform in a similar way, including an ability to easily navigate tight spaces at high speed and quickly recognize if it had already been in a room before,” Mark Micire, DARPA program manager, said in a press release.

Urban disaster relief is an “obvious” application for tiny, self-guided insect robots according to the agency. An equally obvious application, left out of the announcement, is spy drones that can fly independently into rooms, find a perch, and serve as a fly on the wall in a very real (but robotic) sense of the world.

As new materials come online, researchers are quickly getter better at miniaturizing flying machines. Supposedly, the world’s smallest drone is this robofly from Harvard (DARPA funded) at 60 milligrams and 3 centimeters.

The military is working on a version that’s three times smaller. On Dec. 16, the Army Research Laboratory announced that they had created a tiny fly drone of comparable size to the robofly with wings made of lead zirconium titanate.

But creating a miniature flying machine isn’t as simple as creating something that can take off and land while attached to a wire. There’s more that goes into flight than pure mechanics. It takes brains. Ron Polcawich, head of the Army Research Lab’s piezoelectric microelectromechanical systems, or PiezoMEMS team, says it may take another 15 years of research before fly drones can move through the air, land and behave like real bugs.

Supposedly, the world’s smallest drone comes from Harvard at 60 milligrams and 3 centimeters. The military is working on a version that’s three times smaller.

In this paper titled Towards Autonomous Navigation of Miniature UAV, a group of researchers from NASA, IEEE and other outfits describe the high level of difficulty in getting a machine that’s the size of an insect to actually think like one, much less think like a bird.

“A major algorithmic challenge is to process sensor information at a high rate to provide vehicle control and higher level tasks with real-time position information and vehicle states.”

Why is it such a challenge to make a tiny drone locate itself in space and decide on a destination? Because a flying machine that size doesn’t have much room to carry a computer capable of crunching all the visual data (from a camera) that it needs for flight, especially if it’s also going to carry a battery as well. “Since micro rotorcrafts can only carry a few grams of payload including batteries, this has to be accomplished with a very small weight and power budget… Additionally, novel algorithmic implementations with minimal computational complexity, such as presented in this paper, are required,” they write.

The paper demonstrates an autonomous algorithmic flying solution for a quadcopter of a much more bird-sized 12 grams. No, it doesn’t solve the problem of teaching a computer the size of a golf ball to see, dodge obstacles in the air and land on a dime, but it does provide an idea of where research is headed.

“The implementation on an ultra-light weight platform of only 12g is a huge step towards ultimately having a fully capable avionics package (flight computer, camera, and IMU) under 15g. It will enable fully autonomous control of ultrasmall quadrotor systems (as e.g. the 15cm, 25g Bitcraze miniature quadrotor system) that can be deployed for indoor and outdoor [intelligence search and reconaissance] missions in confined spaces while maintaining stealth.”

If progress in machine vision algorithms continues at its current rate that 15-year forecast until the flight of the flying robot insects may be conservative.


Bergdahl’s case offers few options for Army

By Andrew Tilghman, Staff writer 1:59 p.m. EST December 24, 2014


Getting Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl out of the Army is not going to be easy.

As Army leaders consider how to handle the former Taliban captive who is accused of misconduct, their options are narrowed by an obscure personnel regulation: Because the former prisoner of war’s term of enlistment expired during his five years in captivity, the Army must now grant him an honorable discharge or launch a court-martial.

“We’re in an all-or-nothing situation,” said Jeffrey Addicott, a retired Army lieutenant colonel and judge advocate who served as a legal adviser to the Army Special Forces and now teaches law at St. Mary’s University School of Law in Texas.

The Army announced Monday that the investigation of Bergdahl has been forwarded to a top general, or convening authority, to take “appropriate action.”

For now Bergdahl, 28, remains assigned to a desk job at an Army headquarters unit in San Antonio. The Army declined to release any details of the six-month investigation into the circumstances surrounding his disappearance.

Then-Spc. Bergdahl was accused of leaving his patrol base intentionally before he was captured by Taliban insurgents in 2009. Legal experts say the allegations suggest charges of desertion could apply.

One legal option is for the Army to officially refer the case for a court-martial, which would open the door for Bergdahl, if he chooses, to request an other-than-honorable discharge in lieu of the court-martial. Both Bargdahl and the Army general overseeing the case would have to agree to that arrangement.

That would allow the Army to strip Bergdahl of some of his veterans benefits and impose some further administrative sanctions, such as loss of pay and reduction in rank.

But without a court-martial, the Army may have to pay Bergdahl the back pay he’s technically due because he remained on active duty during his five years in captivity. That’s about $200,000, and possibly far more if the full scope of POW benefits is applied.

“I don’t think the Army can have it both ways. Either he was a deserter and he deserves to be court-martialed — or he wasn’t and he is entitled to the back pay,” said Greg Rinkey, a former Army JAG who is now a military defense attorney in New York.

For now Bergdahl’s back pay is frozen in a back account controlled by the Army and the matter will likely remain unresolved until Bergdahl is discharged.

Rinkey said he believes the Army will ultimately opt against seeking a court martial. Questions about Bergdahl’s state of mind at the time of his capture would make the charges at court-martial hard to prove, and that Bergdahl’s five years in captivity would weigh in the Army’s decision, Rinkey said.

After five years in captivity, Bergdahl’s Taliban captors released him May 31 in a prisoner swap that also freed five Taliban leaders from the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. He returned to good health after a short stay at military hospitals in Germany and San Antonio.

A prior investigation of Bergdahl’s disappearance — conducted in 2009 long before his return — found that some members of his unit believed Bergdahl left his patrol base alone at night at least once before and returned safely.

Bergdahl was interviewed as part of the more recent investigation since his return, but Army officials have not released any details of that investigation.

Yet details of the case have been widely reported in the media, in particular the criticisms from other soldiers in his unit who believe Bergdahl intentionally left his base and as a result put the lives of many soldiers at risk.

Some soldiers believe the aggressive manhunt that Army commanders in Afghanistan ordered after Bergdahl’s disappearance directly resulted in several casualties.

That controversy is likely a part of the Army leadership’s considerations.

“You’ve got almost every single member of the platoon that says ‘Yeah, he put down his weapon and left his patrol base. He voluntarily vacated himself from his place of duty.’ Addicott said.

It’s possible Bergdahl could be charged with the lesser offense of Absent Without Leave, or AWOL. But Addicott believes the facts suggest a more severe charge. “To me, it’s desertion. He left in time of war. And I think the facts are clear.”



Newest U.S. Stealth Fighter ’10 Years Behind’ Older Jets

Dec 26, 2014

Dave Majumdar


America’s $400 billion, top-of-the-line aircraft can’t see the battlefield all that well. Which means it’s actually worse than its predecessors at fighting today’s wars.

When the Pentagon’s nearly $400 billion F-35 Joint Strike Fighter finally enters service next year after nearly two decades in development, it won’t be able to support troops on the ground the way older planes can today. Its sensors won’t be able to see the battlefield as well; and what video the F-35 does capture, it won’t be able to transmit to infantrymen in real time.

Versions of the new single-engine stealth fighter are set to replace almost every type of fighter in the U.S. Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps inventory—including aircraft specifically designed to support ground troops like the A-10 Warthog. That will leave troops in a lurch when the F-35 eventually becomes the only game in town.

“The F-35 will, in my opinion, be 10 years behind legacy fighters when it achieves [initial operational capability],” said one Air Force official affiliated with the F-35 program. “When the F-35 achieves [initial operational capability], it will not have the weapons or sensor capability, with respect to the CAS [close air support] mission set, that legacy multi-role fighters had by the mid-2000s.”

The problem stems from the fact that the technology found on one of the stealth fighter’s primary air-to-ground sensors—its nose-mounted Electro-Optical Targeting System (EOTS)—is more than a decade old and hopelessly obsolete. The EOTS, which is similar in concept to a large high-resolution infrared and television camera, is used to visually identify and monitor ground targets. The system can also mark targets for laser-guided bombs.  

“EOTS is a big step backwards. The technology is 10-plus years old, hasn’t been able to take advantage of all the pod upgrades in the meantime, and there were some performance tradeoffs to accommodate space and stealth,” said another Air Force official familiar with the F-35 program. “I think it’s one area where the guys are going to be disappointed in the avionics.”

Ironically, older jets currently in service with the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps can carry the latest generation of sensor pods, which are far more advanced than the EOTS sensor carried by the F-35. The latest generation pods—the Lockheed Martin Sniper ATP-SE and Northrop Grumman LITENING-SE—display far clearer high-definition video imagery in both in the infrared and optical spectrum—and from greater distances. Further, both pods have the ability to beam those full-motion video feeds to ground troops, which provides those forces with vital intelligence information.

Both pods also incorporate the ability to mark targets with an infrared laser beam—which the EOTS lacks—that helps pilots and ground controllers coordinate their attacks. Some pilots consider the infrared marker to be crucial to the close air-support mission to support ground troops. The F-35 EOTS, which is an integral component of the new stealth fighter, was envisioned as a replacement for targeting pods altogether to preserve the JSF’s stealth frame. (Targeting pods can bulge out a bit, and leak out unwanted signals.) But along with the stealth came performance compromises that also hinder the ability to upgrade the system—the specifications of which were set more that 15 years ago—far before anyone imagined a jet would be providing video imagery to ground forces.

When the Pentagon had initially drawn up the Joint Strike Fighter program’s specifications during the later half of the 1990s, the EOTS would have been bleeding-edge technology. However, in the 14 years that have passed since the Pentagon awarded Lockheed the contract to develop the F-35, technology has evolved—and the services have gained experience from over a decade of war.

“It was an awesome system when the F-35 specs were drawn-up in the late ’90s—LANTIRN [targeting pod] was the most advanced pod at that time,” said the first Air Force official affiliated with the F-35 program. “But we’re now a couple of generations beyond that spec with the targeting pods. EOTS is about a [1990s-era Northrop Grumman AN/AAQ-28(V)] LITENING II-equivalent targeting pod.”

That means that the EOTS camera does not have the range or high-resolution capability that would be found on the current targeting pods carried by American fighters flying over Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan. It also means that future F-35 pilots won’t be able to see their quarry in the same kind of detail that they can on current U.S. jets.

The Air Force is currently using the advanced LITENING-SE on many of its fighters like the F-16, which is about two generations newer than the old 1990s-vintage LITENING II-pod. Meanwhile, Lockheed Martin is delivering the new Sniper Advanced Targeting Pod-Sensor Enhancement (ATP-SE) to the Air Force—which is, ironically, an advanced version of the original Sniper XR pod that the F-35’s EOTS sensor was based on.

More damningly, the F-35 won’t be able to send even its already lower-quality live video down to those soldiers on the ground because its specifications were set before the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan started. Back then, no one ever imagined needing to beam live video to ground troops from a fighter jet. Nor are there any current plans to add that capability to the F-35.

“At no point is F-35 fragged to have VDL unless it carries a targeting pod and the F-35 EOTS does not have and will not get an IR [infrared] marker,” the first F-35 official said. “It won’t fit in the space available.”

The lack of an infrared pointer is a huge problem, according to multiple Air Force pilots with experience flying combat missions in support of ground forces. In aircraft like the A-10, F-15E or F/A-18 Hornet, when ground troops pass target coordinates—or if the pilot spots enemy forces shooting—that pilot can turn on the infrared pointer to highlight the target. If the ground controller—known as a Joint Terminal Attack Controller—sees the “sparkle” from the infrared pointer, he can confirm that the pilot is illuminating the correct target.

Further, if a pilot sees something of interest, he or she can use the infrared pointer to draw the attention of the ground controller, who can then confirm if the target is hostile or not. “F-35s will never have this,” the first F-35 official said. “It also helps pilots orientate themselves during weapons delivery passes.”

Officials at JSF-maker Lockheed Martin couldn’t respond to queries by press time, but the F-35 program does not appear to have a plan to rectify the problem.

One Air Force official said that with enough time and more money, the EOTS could be fixed. “Because in five years when the USAF [US Air Force] comes to Lockheed Martin and says we absolutely need an upgraded EOTS with an infrared pointer and , Lockheed Martin says… OK no sweat, that’ll be $5 million per jet,” the Air Force official said. “Thus lies the problem in the U.S. military industrial complex. They purposefully build products that require mass amounts of money to ‘upgrade’ when in fact, they could have planned ahead and built an easily upgradable ship / aircraft / radio / weapon system.”

One of the JSF officials agreed that the EOTS does not speak well for the Pentagon’s ability to buy new weapons. “EOTS is a poster child for one of the ills of the acquisition process,” the official said. “Because all of the subsystems depend on each other, requirements aren’t allowed to change after the design is ‘finalized.’ It’s not a big deal, unless it takes 20 years to field the jet… then it’s a problem.”

The end result is that when the F-35 finally becomes operational after its myriad technical problems, cost overruns, and massive delays, in some ways it will be less capable than current fighters in the Pentagon’s inventory.

“Will the F-35 even have parity with those jets in the CAS mission set 10 years from now? I don’t know, dude. It doesn’t look good.”



Will Fracking, Climate Change, Solar Reshape US Security?

By Jared Anderson and Colin Clark

on December 23, 2014 at 7:30 AM


Energy sources and related commodities have driven national security issues ever since the modern nation-state was born with the Peace of Westphalia. Oak made Spain and England’s stout sailing ships. Water energy and wind drove mills and moved water. Wood and coal moved steamships. Then came the almost magical commodity of oil, packed with energy. World War II brought us the wonder and terror of nuclear energy. Today, America buys much less foreign oil for the first time in decades, largely due to fracking and other technological advances. Wind and solar energy are growing by leaps and bounds. How fundamental are these changes in the world’s energy markets and what is their likely effect on our national security interests? My colleague at Breaking Energy, Jared Anderson, tackles the energy side of the equation. We’ve got the national security side. Read on. The Editor.


The global oil market is going through an upheaval, with non-OPEC production led by North American producers surging while OPEC’s traditional price-setting role changes. First, US oil production and proven oil reserve growth over the past several years is astonishing. Despite the current oil price decline, US oil production growth in 2015 is expected to grow around 1 million barrels per day. However, those growth rates probably won’t be sustained over the long term.

Second, if you look at the world’s largest oil reserve holders and countries that have reserve-to-production ratios in excess of 100 years, they are almost exclusively OPEC members. The cartel’s market influence has diminished in the face of robust non-OPEC production, but the group’s power is likely to endure over the long term purely due to the sheer volume of oil its members collectively control.

The Saudis will remain the de facto leaders of OPEC until another country can build comparable spare production capacity, which in the Saudis case is currently around 2 mmb/d. Saudi Arabia has 266 billion barrels of proven high-quality, cheap-to-produce oil reserves. The US, in contrast, boasts only 44.2 billion barrels of mostly expensive-to-produce oil reserves. Technology is a wild card that has the potential to unlock additional petroleum resources and reduce production costs, but it would be a mistake to discount Saudi Arabia’s power as an oil country, particularly over the long term.

That means, of course, that the Bahrain-based Fifth Fleet will remain a key asset. Add the Iranian nuclear talks, the predations of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), and the simmering tensions between Israel and its neighbors to the oil that flow through the Strait of Hormuz and there seems little doubt we will keep substantial naval, air and expeditionary forces in the area for the foreseeable future.

But these shifting energy markets raises larger strategic questions.

Colin spoke with one of the wisest analysts about the energy sector and its national security implications, Tony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies. A former senior Pentagon and NATO official, Cordesman also served as director of policy and planning for resource applications at the Department of Energy. He doesn’t foresee any immediate major strategic shifts created by the energy market changes. At the same time, he acknowledges that major technological and market shifts have usually gone unnoticed until they hit us in the face.

Cordesman points to the solar and nuclear markets, where we have all been expecting or hoping for major technological breakthroughs “since the Nixon administration.” Then he notes that, in the oil market, “no one predicted that the most critical technological breakthrough would prove to be fracking.” Can we expect a breakthrough in the solar, nuclear or biofuel arenas? “It may take 25 to 50 years or it will happen almost without warning,” he predicts.

The current situation in the alternative energy world: We’re seeing the strong growth of renewable energy, albeit from a low base. The growth rate of installed US solar power capacity has been impressive, but that growth rate has slipped in the past few years as the technology has gained market share. “U.S. solar power capacity would need to grow at an annual rate of 22 percent in order for solar to provide 10 percent of the nation’s electricity in 2030, from less than 1 percent now,” Breaking Energy recently reported.

Wind and solar are used to generate electricity but coal will remain a significant source of US power generation for decades, although its market share looks likely to decline — for environmental reasons. The renewable energy story is important, and while it is changing the way utilities do business, wind and solar are only beginning to compete with fossil fuels on price. In most cases, their competitiveness is a result of tax incentives often referred to as subsidies. Also, the intermittent nature of these resources is a technical challenge that must be overcome in order to efficiently integrate large volumes of wind and solar energy into the power grid during times of peak demand. Creative financing and technological advances – particularly in energy storage – will help renewable electricity sources compete over time, but coal and natural gas will remain significant components of the US power generation mix for the foreseeable future.

At the international level, the issue of burning coal to generate power is far more complex. It is cheap and represents a comparatively cost-effective way to electrify large portions of the global population that currently have no access to power. Indeed, nine countries are collectively about to build roughly 550 gigawatts of new coal-fired capacity over the next two and a half decades.


And Then, Climate Change

In many ways, reducing emissions from coal-fired power generation is the key to dealing with climate change. China has been acting to address coal plant emissions due to its dangerous air pollution levels, which is an important piece of the climate change puzzle.

This poses a great conundrum for China. The Communist Party’s leaders are trying to forge a China united between rural and urban areas and that requires huge and fast economic development — much of it dependent on the use of cheap and readily available coal. Weaning themselves off of coal may be promising in terms of reducing emissions, but Cordesman says they are unlikely to be able to accept the economic tradeoffs.

For the same reasons, many other developing countries including India, Bangladesh and Pakistan are increasing their coal-fired power generation fleets.

Some think the ship has already sailed on preventing the impacts of climate change and now focus on adapting to extreme weather and other consequences as opposed to mitigating emissions such that they limit global temperatures from increasing more than 2 degrees Celsius.

Optimists remain however, and international agreements are not the only thing to focus on when thinking about what the world is doing to address the issue. “At every level—individuals, families, cities, states, provinces, even multinational corporations—efforts to cut CO2 are underway,” David Biello, associate editor for environment and energy at Scientific American, wrote in a recent post. He goes on to point out, “these are first steps and they are coming at a quickening pace, which suggest a possible future free of catastrophic climate change. More and faster should be the new slogan for action to address global warming. How much more and how much faster should be the only issue for negotiation.”



Rethinking The Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent

By Robert Spalding and Adam Lowther

on December 29, 2014 at 2:54 PM


The United States Air Force needs to replace the Minuteman III ICBM fleet at the three nuclear missile bases in Wyoming, Montana, and North Dakota. Critics decry the cost of a proposed replacement, thought to be in the range of several hundred billion dollars. Their main argument against replacing ICBMs is not the cost of replacing the Minuteman III. The critics say we just don’t need them. They are, they say, a “Cold War relic.”

The fact that nuclear peer Russia and near-peer China are modernizing their ICBM forces is often lost on those critics. While the reasons why are debatable, Russia’s recent aggression on a variety of fronts has left many Russia apologists dumbfounded. Russia isn’t just modernizing its ICBMs. At a frequency unprecedented since the Cold War, Russian nuclear-capable bombers are penetrating the American Air Defense Identification Zone’s (ADIZ) in both the continental United States and around Guam. Russia, unlike the US, is investing heavily to modernize their nuclear triad — delivery vehicles and weapons. The Russians seem intent on relying on their nuclear force to counter American conventional military superiority.

China likewise is improving its nuclear forces. The DF-41— a multiple reentry vehicle ICBM — was recently tested successfully. They are also working on improving their nuclear submarine capability, placing new submarine-launched ballistic missiles on Jin class nuclear submarines. To deter such capabilities America requires a secure and reliable nuclear deterrent for decades to come.


Why ICBMs?

The fact that the basics of the ICBM mission have not changed much since these systems were first fielded may explain why some believe they are outdated. Before we commit to deactivating this weapon system, it is important to consider some of its benefits.

First, ICBMs provide an excellent deterrent to nuclear attack on the homeland. The 400-plus Minuteman III silos spread across the American West are invulnerable to all but massive nuclear missile attacks. Thus, their existence sets a high threshold for attacking the United States, either conventionally or with nuclear weapons. Without ICBMs, our strategic nuclear targets shrink from 503 to six, which could all be destroyed with conventional strikes. Only ICBMs require a nuclear strike.

Second, ICBMs cost less than the other two parts of the nuclear triad. While a Minuteman III weapon system replacement will come at a cost; it is likely to prove operationally cost effective over the long term. It is important to remember that ICBMs are used every single day to deter our adversaries.

Building new ICBMs provides the US an opportunity to consider deploying ICBMs in new and creative ways to deter a broader range of future threats. Instead of just procuring a new nuclear-capable ICBM, a common launch vehicle capable of carrying multiple modules might prove a good option.


A New Ground Based Strategic Deterrent

Some non-traditional missions a common launch vehicle might provide include:

◾a capability for providing time critical space assets like sensors, navigation, or communications satellites in response to a contingency;

◾traditional missions like: ballistic missile defense; anti-satellite strikes;

◾and prompt conventional strike.


The benefit of such a system would be the ability to replace the top of a missile with a different payload in order to carry out a different mission. At the same time, nuclear deterrence could be preserved.

Traditional nuclear deterrence works by creating the fear of a massive retaliatory response in the minds of a potential adversary. What if ICBMs could also demonstrate that an adversary’s objectives are beyond reach? Some have speculated that terrorists may not be deterrable using nuclear weapons, and thus the ICBM force is irrelevant against these threats.

In the future, a state or terror group may elect to detonate a nuclear weapon in the upper atmosphere creating an electro-magnetic pulse (EMP). It would not cause direct casualties but it would cause major disruptions to financial and communication systems worldwide. If the US can demonstrate the ability to rapidly restore these systems in the wake of an EMP attack, the incentive to launch such an attack may be diminished.


A prompt conventional strike capability (usually known as Prompt Global Strike — PGS) would also fill a niche role so the US could strike a fleeting terrorist target or rogue regime. Given its cost, only a small number of such weapons would be feasible and useful. They could not effectively replace nuclear ICBMs.

The concern that a nuclear-armed opponent might mistake a launch as a pre-emptive nuclear attack is used against ICBMs providing the PGS capability. However, with today’s improved communications and space situational awareness capabilities the US can offer effective advance notification and assurances to Russia and China, reducing the risks raised by detractors.



While the options for a Minuteman III replacement are still open, what is not debatable is the fact that Russia and China both see ICBMs as critical to their own security. It is now time for the United States to do likewise. When it comes to nuclear deterrence, symmetry of weapons plays an important role in stability. We should not forget that.


Col. Robert S. Spalding III is a B-2 pilot and former military fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Adam Lowther is a professor at the Air Force Research Institute at Maxwell Air Force Base. He specializes in the study of nuclear weapons policy. He was deeply involved in the Commander Directed Investigation about cheating and drug use among missileers at Malmstrom Air Base.



Afghanistan War officially ends

By Andrew Tilghman, Staff Writer 11:32 a.m. EST December 30, 2014


Operation Enduring Freedom, the worldwide combat mission launched shortly after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, that eventually became synonymous with the 13-year war in Afghanistan, officially ended Sunday.

The mission that took the lives of 2,356 U.S. service members was punctuated with a ceremony with military officials in Kabul and a statement from President Obama lauding the efforts of those involved.

“On this day we give thanks to our troops and intelligence personnel who have been relentless against the terrorists responsible for 9/11 — devastating the core al Qaeda leadership, delivering justice to Osama bin Laden, disrupting terrorist plots and saving countless American lives. We are safer, and our nation is more secure, because of their service,” Obama said in the written statement.

Up to 10,800 U.S. troops will remain in Afghanistan in 2015 and the mission will be renamed “Operation Freedom’s Sentinel.” Military officials say that will be a narrowly defined two-prong mission: advising the Afghan army and continuing to mount counterterrorism operations against the Taliban and other insurgents who may pose a threat to the U.S. or Afghan governments.

Obama’s current strategy calls for reducing the U.S. force level to about 5,000 in 2016 until a complete end of the military mission there before he leaves the White House in 2017.


The early years of OEF encompassed missions around the world. Many U.S. troops supporting the invasion of Iraq in 2003 were technically deployed under OEF orders. And it also included counterterrorism operations in Southeast Asia, North Africa and elsewhere.

For years, the war operations in Afghanistan were comparatively small. U.S. troop levels there remained below 30,000 until 2008, when the Taliban insurgency began gaining ground and threatening the American-backed government. U.S. troop levels peaked at around 100,000 in 2010.

Pessimism about the military mission in Afghanistan has grown during the past several years.

According to a Military Times reader survey, the percentage of active-duty service members who say the U.S. ultimately is “very likely” or “somewhat likely” to succeed in Afghanistan has dropped from 76 percent in 2007 to 23 percent in 2014.

A similar trend is reported among civilians. While the mission was overwhelmingly popular when it began in October 2001, a Gallup Poll in 2014 showed that about half of Americans believe sending troops to Afghanistan was a mistake.


U.S. drone rules remain in the hangar in 2014

by Press • 1 January 2015



(Reuters) – The United States missed a year-end deadline for publishing new rules on remote-control aircraft, delaying an eagerly awaited step toward using drones in everything from farming to package delivery.

Businesses have been clamoring for rules to allow commercial drone flights, fearing the United States is falling behind other countries in developing a multibillion-dollar industry.

The Federal Aviation Administration turned a draft of the rules – the first major overhaul of the regulations – over to the White House on Oct. 23, and had said it expected them to be published in 2014.

But the White House Office of Management and Budget had not releases the draft by Wednesday. The office has 90 days to review proposed regulations, during which time analysts craft a cost-benefit analysis and meet with affected parties. The time frame often is extended.

Once published, the draft proposal will be subject to public comment, and it is likely to take at least a year to come into effect, according to legal and policy experts.

“We are continuing to work with our administration colleagues to finish the rule,” the FAA said on Wednesday. “Our goal is to get the proposal right.”

The rules deal with difficult issues such as potential licensing of drone pilots and aircraft and flight safety, according to industry sources.

They also must address the explosive growth of casual fliers with little knowledge of safety guidelines used by model-aircraft enthusiasts, industry experts say. The proliferation of inexpensive drones has led to more dangerous close calls with jetliners and crowds, the FAA says.

The rules also may deal with the ability of state and local authorities to regulate drones. The FAA controls the U.S. airspace, but numerous states and cities have also passed drone laws. The FAA may include a “pre-emption clause” in the draft rules to assert its precedence over other laws.

“The FAA does not want a patchwork of regulations that deal with operation of model aircraft,” said Mark Dombroff, a partner at the law firm of McKenna Long & Aldridge in McLean, Virginia.

Dombroff led a group including Textron Inc, Rockwell Collins Inc and the Motion Picture Association of America that recently met with the FAA to press for pre-emption. While that probably won’t be in the first draft, it likely will emerge through public comments, he said


DoD braces for political battle over military pay

By Andrew Tilghman, Staff Writer 4:36 p.m. EST December 30, 2014


The Pentagon is bracing for one of its biggest political battles in years as a blue-ribbon commission on military compensation and retirement nears the end of its two-year study and moves closer to releasing its proposals for change by Feb. 1.

An internal document obtained by Military Times reveals the Defense Department is setting up a rapid-response plan that will scrutinize the commission’s potentially controversial proposals and send a recommendation to President Obama within 60 days, or by April 1.

DoD leaders have no idea what the independent commission will propose to Congress, so they have tapped a team of high-level officials to review, analyze and prepare a formal response to influence a potentially historic vote on Capitol Hill.

The stakes are high; the commission’s report is likely to set off a far-reaching debate about the future of the military compensation system, with a basic structure that has changed little over the past century.

In some ways, the Pentagon is eager to support big changes that might cut personnel costs and reduce long-term defense spending and save money for investments in research and new weapons systems.

At the same time, military officials worry that sweeping changes to military compensation — such as radically changing the current retirement system — could devastate recruiting and retention and threaten the long-term health of the 41-year-old all-volunteer force.

The report from the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission will include detailed legislation that members of Congress may immediately begin debating, revising or potentially putting to a vote.

The commission’s recommendations likely will include contentious proposals, such as replacing the military’s 20-year cliff-vesting retirement model, creating new incentive pays or eliminating some in-kind benefits that service members receive in the form of installation-based services.

As the Pentagon and the White House begin facing pointed questions about how the proposals might impact readiness, defense officials will launch an intensive internal review that ultimately will inform Obama’s official position.


From Feb. 2. Through Feb. 6, several Pentagon “working groups,” as well as a team from the RAND Corp, think tank, immediately will begin to analyze the proposals, according to the internal DoD document.

Separate “working groups” will study topics that include “pay and retirement,” “health benefits” and “quality of life benefits,” according to the four-page PowerPoint, dated Dec. 18.


The working groups will mostly include officers at the O-6 level from each service and civilians at a similar pay grade.

Specifically, the analysis will focus on the potential impact on recruiting and retention and will aim to “develop the DoD response for Presidential consideration,” according to the document.


From Feb. 9 to 13, the working groups will convene at an “off-site location” for further analysis.


From Feb. 17 to 19, members of the working groups will brief their services’ senior leaders on the status of the Pentagon’s official response.


By Feb. 26, senior leaders, including the undersecretary for personnel and readiness, will receive a draft of the formal response.


By March 6, the Joint Chiefs will vet DoD’s official position on the commission recommendations. At the same time, Pentagon civilian leaders will reviewing it in a process led by Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work.


By March 13, the defense secretary will approve or reject a final version of the Pentagon’s response. It’s unclear at this point if that will be outgoing Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel or his successor, Ash Carter, who is likely to be confirmed by the Senate in early 2015.


From there the official response will go to the White House, where it will face further review.

The DoD plan aims to have Obama provide formal recommendations to Congress by April 1.



Biological ‘Bad Luck’ Blamed In Two-Thirds Of Cancer Cases

Posted: 01/01/2015 2:00 pm EST Updated: 2 hours ago

By Will Dunham


WASHINGTON, Jan 1 (Reuters) – Plain old bad luck plays a major role in determining who gets cancer and who does not, according to researchers who found that two-thirds of cancer incidence of various types can be blamed on random mutations and not heredity or risky habits like smoking.

The researchers said on Thursday random DNA mutations accumulating in various parts of the body during ordinary cell division are the prime culprits behind many cancer types.

They looked at 31 cancer types and found that 22 of them, including leukemia and pancreatic, bone, testicular, ovarian and brain cancer, could be explained largely by these random mutations – essentially biological bad luck.

The other nine types, including colorectal cancer, skin cancer known as basal cell carcinoma and smoking-related lung cancer, were more heavily influenced by heredity and environmental factors like risky behavior or exposure to carcinogens.

Overall, they attributed 65 percent of cancer incidence to random mutations in genes that can drive cancer growth.

“When someone gets cancer, immediately people want to know why,” said oncologist Dr. Bert Vogelstein of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, who conducted the study published in the journal Science with Johns Hopkins biomathematician Cristian Tomasetti.

“They like to believe there’s a reason. And the real reason in many cases is not because you didn’t behave well or were exposed to some bad environmental influence, it’s just because that person was unlucky. It’s losing the lottery.”

Tomasetti said harmful mutations occur for “no particular reason other than randomness” as the body’s master cells, called stem cells, divide in various tissues.

Tomasetti said the study indicates that changing one’s lifestyle and habits like smoking to avoid cancer risks may help prevent certain cancers, but may not be as effective for others.

“Thus, we should focus more research and resources on finding ways to detect such cancers at early, curable stages,” Tomasetti added.

The researchers charted the cumulative number of lifetime divisions in the stem cells of a given tissue – for example, lungs or colon – and compared that to the lifetime cancer risk in that tissue.

Generally speaking, tissues that undergo more divisions – thus increasing the probability of random mutations – were more prone to tumors.

The study did not cover all cancer types. Breast and prostate cancer were excluded because the researchers were unable to ascertain reliable stem cell division rates. (Reporting by Will Dunham; Editing by Mohammad Zargham)


The reason oil could drop as low as $20 per barrel

By Anatole Kaletsky

Tue Dec 30, 2014 2:40pm EST


(Reuters) – How low can it go — and how long will it last? The 50 percent slump in oil prices raises both those questions and while nobody can confidently answer the first question (I will try to in a moment), the second is pretty easy.

Low oil prices will last long enough for one of two events to happen. The first possibility, the one most traders and analysts seem to expect, is that Saudi Arabia will re-establish OPEC’s monopoly power once it achieves the true geopolitical or economic objectives that spurred it to trigger the slump. The second possibility, one I wrote about two weeks ago, is that the global oil market will move toward normal competitive conditions in which prices are set by the marginal production costs, rather than Saudi or OPEC monopoly power. This may seem like a far-fetched scenario, but it is more or less how the oil market worked for two decades from 1986 to 2004.

Whichever outcome finally puts a floor under prices, we can be confident that the process will take a long time to unfold. It is inconceivable that just a few months of falling prices will be enough time for the Saudis to either break the Iranian-Russian axis or reverse the growth of shale oil production in the United States. It is equally inconceivable that the oil market could quickly transition from OPEC domination to a normal competitive one. The many bullish oil investors who still expect prices to rebound quickly to their pre-slump trading range are likely to be disappointed. The best that oil bulls can hope for is that a new, and substantially lower, trading range may be established as the multi-year battles over Middle East dominance and oil-market share play out.

The key question is whether the present price of around $55 (35 pounds) will prove closer to the floor or the ceiling of this new range. The history of inflation-adjusted oil prices, deflated by the U.S. Consumer Price Index, offers some intriguing hints. The 40 years since OPEC first flexed its muscles in 1974 can be divided into three distinct periods. From 1974 to 1985, West Texas Intermediate, the U.S. benchmark, fluctuated between $48 and $120 in today’s money. From 1986 to 2004, the price ranged from $21 to $48 (apart from two brief aberrations during the 1998 Russian crisis and the 1991 war in Iraq). And from 2005 until this year, oil has again traded in its 1974 to 1985 range of roughly $50 to $120, apart from two very brief spikes in the 2008-09 financial crisis.

What makes these three periods significant is that the trading range of the past 10 years was very similar to the 1974-85 first decade of OPEC domination, but the 19 years from 1986 to 2004 represented a totally different regime. It seems plausible that the difference between these two regimes can be explained by the breakdown of OPEC power in 1985 and the shift from monopolistic to competitive pricing for the next 20 years, followed by the restoration of monopoly pricing in 2005 as OPEC took advantage of surging Chinese demand.

In view of this history, the demarcation line between the monopolistic and competitive regimes at a little below $50 a barrel seems a reasonable estimate of where one boundary of the new long-term trading range might end up. But will $50 be a floor or a ceiling for the oil price in the years ahead?

There are several reasons to expect a new trading range as low as $20 to $50, as in the period from 1986 to 2004. Technological and environmental pressures are reducing long-term oil demand and threatening to turn much of the high-cost oil outside the Middle East into a “stranded asset” similar to the earth’s vast unwanted coal reserves. Additional pressures for low oil prices in the long term include the possible lifting of sanctions on Iran and Russia and the ending of civil wars in Iraq and Libya, which between them would release additional oil reserves bigger than Saudi Arabia’s on to the world markets.

The U.S. shale revolution is perhaps the strongest argument for a return to competitive pricing instead of the OPEC-dominated monopoly regimes of 1974-85 and 2005-14. Although shale oil is relatively costly, production can be turned on and off much more easily – and cheaply – than from conventional oilfields. This means that shale prospectors should now be the “swing producers” in global oil markets instead of the Saudis. In a truly competitive market, the Saudis and other low-cost producers would always be pumping at maximum output, while shale shuts off when demand is weak and ramps up when demand is strong. This competitive logic suggests that marginal costs of U.S. shale oil, generally estimated at $40 to $50, should in the future be a ceiling for global oil prices, not a floor.

On the other hand, there are also good arguments for OPEC-monopoly pricing of $50 to $120 to be re-established once markets test the bottom of this range. OPEC members have a strong interest in preventing a return to competitive pricing and could learn to function again as an effective cartel. Although price-fixing becomes more difficult as U.S. producers increase market share, OPEC could try to impose pricing “discipline” if it can knock out many U.S. shale producers next year. The macro-economic impact of low oil prices on global growth could help this effort by boosting economic activity and energy demand.

So which of these arguments will prove right: The bearish case for a $20 to $50 trading-range based on competitive market pricing? Or the bullish one for $50 to $120 based on resumed OPEC dominance?

Ask me again once the price of oil has fallen to $50 – and stayed there for a year or so.


What They Told Us: Reviewing Last Week’s Key Polls

Bottom of Form

Saturday, January 03, 2015

Happy New Year?

Signs suggest the U.S. economy is finally gaining some traction after 2008’s Wall Street meltdown and the bursting of the housing bubble. Consumer and investor confidence steadily climbed during the month of December to levels close to their highs for the year.   

Nearly 40% think now is a good time to sell a home in the area where they live. A year ago, just 29% felt that way.

Americans ended 2014 on a much more positive note psychologically than they did the previous year and are more optimistic about the year ahead.

Quite simply, Americans are in a better mood these days.

Still, just 30% of Likely U.S. Voters think the country is heading in the right direction. But this is the first time this weekly finding has crept out of the 20s in several months.

It’s not uncommon, though, for Americans to be more upbeat coming off the Christmas season and going into a new year, so it will be worth watching to see whether optimism continues to grow in Rasmussen Reports’ key economic and social indicators or whether they fall back into the trough they’ve been in for the past couple years.

President Obama also may be benefiting from the public’s improving attitude. His daily job approval ratings have inched up since the blowback his party got on Election Day.

The president ended the year with a monthly job approval in December of 48%. That’s up a point from the previous three months but is one point shy of his high for the year of 49% in February and May. Obama’s monthly approval hit a two-year low of 45% in November 2013 during the troubled rollout of the new national health care law.

But when it comes to his handling of the economy, the president has yet to get any additional credit from voters.

Obama officially ended the U.S. combat mission in Afghanistan last Sunday, but most voters support his decision to keep several thousand troops there until 2016 for training and counterterrorism purposes.

President George W. Bush launched the war in Afghanistan to end that country’s harboring of al Qaeda terrorists training against the United States, but over 13 years later as America’s longest running war comes to a close, few Americans believe that goal has been reached.

Election 2016 is nearly two years away, but we can expect the presidential race to begin really taking shape as this year progresses. Much has been made of late of former Florida Governor Jeb Bush’s plans to seek the Republican presidential nomination in 2016.

GOP voters aren’t enthusiastic about another Bush running for president and feel even more strongly that his family’s history in the White House makes him a less attractive candidate to vote for.

Most Republicans think their party should come up with a fresh face for the next presidential election.

In other surveys last week:

— Voters end the year with little personal experience with the health insurance exchanges established under the new health care law.

— Republicans and Democrats are tied on the latest Generic Congressional Ballot.

— A sizable number of Americans plan on making some life changes this year and are more hopeful than they were a year ago that they’ll stick to these New Year’s resolutions.

The U.S. Postal Service was the deliverer of choice for more Americans this holiday season.

— Americans told us they planned to welcome the new year with a kiss and a drink.


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